History, Features and Best Uses of Futon Beds

I used to move around a lot, from rented apartment to rented apartment and one of my most cherished items at that time was my futon bed. It was so easy to dismantle, pack into the back of the car and then reassemble at the new place. Here we take a look at the history, the main features and the best uses of futon beds in our modern lifestyles.

The Japanese were using futons centuries before they were introduced to the US. They were usually quilted cotton mattresses which were placed directly on the wooden floor at night time for sleeping, then rolled up and stored away during the daytime, freeing the room up to be used for something else. Actually futons were usually a 2 part set that included a shikibuton, or bottom mattress, and a kakebuton – a thick quilted bedcover, which sat on top.

The term “Futon” originally referred to the mattress, which was covered and was traditionally stuffed with cotton or wool batting. They are still used extensively in Japan, where special stores will stock many different styles and will package them into sets including the mattress, comforter, different weights of blankets and pillows.

When the futon bed was introduced to the west it took on several new features, the most obvious of which was that it was usually sold with a base or frame – normally made of wood or metal – which could be folded up into the form of a sofa or chair when not being used as a bed. This expanded its appeal and attraction for use in many different situations. Typically the frame flattens out when used as a bed and will fold in the middle when used as a couch, the mattress then doubling up and providing cushioning for the seat area and the back-rest area of the couch.

Futon sofa beds became extremely popular with people living in situations where space or money (or both) was short. Apartment living was a great example where a futon would solve several problems at once. Usually people living in apartments didn’t have the space for a spare guest room; the futon allowed them to quickly convert their sofa into a spare bed and allow the apartment liver to have guests sleep over more comfortably.

Futons were also highly portable so people in the same situation as me, moving around from place to place – like students and many modern youngsters – could dismantle them easily, pack them away into a car or van and then reassemble them in the new place easily using nothing more than an Alan key in many cases. There are also no worries with navigating bulky mattresses and bed bases along narrow passageways, as these pack up into small bundles and rolls that can be carried into most rooms very easily.

Given these major advantages over normal mattress sets, plus the fact that they were usually very reasonably priced it’s no wonder that futon mattresses and beds became a permanent fixture of the western bedding market.

Nowadays western futon mattresses are usually filled with foam as well as cotton and are thicker than their Japanese counterparts. When being used as a sofa or chair they will also incorporate smart mechanisms to stop them slipping down the frame. They are usually sold in sets that will include a mattress and a frame and you may be offered a variety of covers that are far more elaborate than the simple white cotton covers of the Japanese mattresses. This is all in an attempt to cater to western comfort and design expectations and it’s constantly evolving in the case of the futon.

If you are looking at cheap futon beds for your home be sure not to under-estimate the importance of the frame. My frame was made from teak and was more expensive than the mattress itself and outlasted two mattresses in the end. Futon mattresses will flatten out and can eventually be replaced but your frame should be built to last. Not to mention that a lousy frame can result in an accident if your futon doubles up as a sofa or chair and collapses at a bad moment.

There are certain times and certain situations in our homes when we just need a cheap and simple solution. In the case of bedding, there are times when we have to quickly get a temporary bed together for an unexpected guest or a friend who is over and had a glass of wine too many and cannot drive home. Those of us living in houses with spare rooms have no problem but what about those of us who live in small apartments or condos? Do we have to send the guest to a hotel or are we in a situation to provide a temporary place to rest their head for the night? Two options that cost little and can save space as well as time are air mattresses and futons, and here we concentrate on cheap futons.

Futons were made popular during the 1960′s and 1970′s in the US but were used as portable, space-saving and convenient bedding in Japan for many centuries before that. The traditional design was just a roll of cotton bedding that could be packed away when not being used.

In the US they have conventionally been used with a frame that raises the mattress off the floor; some of these frames are versatile and can be shaped into a sofa or chair and this is where we come to the real beauty of futon mattresses in being used in apartments and tight spaces. Because they can double-up as an item of furniture they use no extra space at all. The sofa can just be easily collapsed into a bed as and when needed and, if you keep a couple of spare pillows, a comforter cover and a spare bed in a bag in a cabinet nearby, you can have a comfortable bed made up in minutes for your guest.

Over the years designs have become more sophisticated; the basic concepts still apply and the frames will probably still be wooden or metal, but they employ some new features to stop the mattress slipping in the frame when it is being used upright, for example.
Because futons are usually used with covers they are easy to maintain. The covers can be scotch guarded and waterproofed so that the mattress doesn’t suffer if there are spillages, which is especially likely with futon sofa-beds. Most of the covers are machine-washable and are sold in the same place as the futon, and the many imaginative designs available nowadays can add a splash of color or a new look to your living room.

Nowadays of course there are plenty of specialist sites online where you can buy a cheap futon for your home. You can buy just the frame or a frame and mattress set and you will be able to choose between various sizes (twin or full size are the most popular). The standard futon mattress will usually be around 4 inches thick and be made from cotton, polyester or a blend of both.

There is plenty to choose from online and you may be lucky enough to find sales or special deals on lines that are being cleared. Though there are more expensive and stylish models around, you should be able to pick up a perfectly good cheap futon bed for a few hundred dollars including delivery. Just make sure the retailer is reputable and established.

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